I wanted to see our solar system up close. Not through photos and data sent by probes and transformed into the images everyone got to see. I wanted to be there.
My fascination with space started, like most people like me, at an early age. I read news stories about the stations in orbit, probes and vehicles sent to other planets, the asteroid belt, comets, and beyond. I absorbed every little detail about what they expected to find, and what they really found. The discovery of a new planet in a far away orbit around the sun proved there was still a lot to be discovered.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t gifted enough in the skills needed to get a job up close to the action.
I barely managed to get through college and with luck got a job at the town’s library. The old man who was the librarian was a friend of my father and he asked if I was interested. I do like books, and it gave me the opportunity to read even more about space, so I accepted. He told me he’d retire in a few years and was looking for a successor.
I spent several late evenings alone in the library, reading the latest news, books written by the scientists who designed the space probes and those that explained the data received. The theories about dark matter inspired my imagination.
Then one day I found a book about the ancient civilizations and their knowledge of space. They had some remarkable insights for a time when they didn’t have the tools we have today. Some things we thought had first been discovered in medieval times had already been known for ages by the native Americans in the north and south, scientists in the middle and far east.
The book had a list of references and I looked them up to add them to my reading list. I thought I recognised one title and went to the back of the library to look for it. It was an older book and it would have been in the closed off antique section.
The scent of old books and wood shelves always thrilled me. Like finding a treasure in an adventure game. Only here could be real treasures.
It didn’t take long for me to find it, but a book next to it caught my attention. I pulled it out and the title read “Exploration of space as practiced by the Yahi”. I skimmed over the introduction. It was written by an explorer who encountered the Yahi in the late 1700’s and lived among them for some time. He exchanged knowledge with them and they taught him things about the world, the moon, the planets and more that he couldn’t believe at first. Because he was an amateur astronomer he discussed many late nights with the elders about the workings of the universe. Then one night they let him experience the ritual they used to sent the spirit to the stars. This book told the journey he had on that night.
I got the feeling this was something special and took it back with me. I searched library records and the internet for more information but found nothing. I flipped through the pages of text and few illustrations and wondered if it was just a fantasy story.
The whole idea did interest me anyway so I checked it out to read it at home the next day since that was a sunday.
I had settled into my comfortable chair after breakfast and started on the book. The explorer, Max Rightmans, started off with a brief history on how he ended up on the west coast of North America after leaving Europe. He had met other native tribes before and had written about those encounters for a publisher in France and Germany. The Yahi though were different. There was something about the way they lived that had gotten him curious and decide to hang around.
The Yahi were very friendly and when he showed them the traditions and hunting he had picked up from the other natives they accepted his presence in their village. He picked up their language slowly and asked about the rituals and dancing they seemd to do for the stars. The elders told him of the visits they made to planets and comets in our solar system.
He thought it was hallucinations from the tobacco and the stuff they drank during their ceremonies, but when they told him about things only recently discovered by astronomers in Europe he became curious.
He asked if they could let him journey with them and they agreed. The next evening he joined two others in drinking a sour liquid they brewed and laid down looking up at the stars.
First he experienced a strange mist, then found himself surrounded by stars. The two others were here and told him he just needed to think about flying to where he wanted to go to get there. It sounded too simple but he tried by thinking about the moon. He thought hard about the view of the moon in the sky that evening and felt a surge going through his body. An invisible force seemed to pull at him from inside and he found himself turning to face the moon and fly there at increasing speed.
The sudden speed scared him and he suddenly stopped. His heart beat fast while he breathed quickly although there was no air to breath. He forced himself to calm down, telling himself it was just a dream. After a few more deep breaths he thought about flying slowly toward the moon. Again he felt the pull and he moved. Getting used to the sensation he thought about going a little faster and he felt an accelleration again. The more comfortable he felt the faster he went until he got close to the moon. He thought about going slower and he did.
Soon enough he just floated in front of the most magnificent view he had ever had of the pale lady in the night. He could see craters and features not seen before by telescopes and headed closer. He landed on the surface and felt it beneath his feet, although there were no marks left. He was there, yet he wasn’t.
One of the natives stood next to him and smiled. Then the mist surrounded him and moments later he awoke next to the two others.
He looked at the elders and they smiled when they saw the look on his face. They said they would let him explore more the next night since it was already very late. He hardly slept the rest of the night.
The next day he made notes on the ingredients and method of brewing the strange liquid, but before the day ended a raid by gold miners and cowboys destroyed the village and killed the population. They almost killed him for being there but thinking he was just a weak scholar they let him go.
He tried to find other Yahi, but there were none to be found. Asking other natives if they had the power to travel through space only resulted in negative answers. In the meantime he got sick and weaker and went back to Europe to live with his brother and wrote everything down, including illustrations of anything he remembered.
The last page in the book described how he died shortly after finishing it and how his brother got a publisher to print it.
I looked at the illustrations of the plants and knew I could not resist the urge to recreate it.
The next day I spent every spare moment learning more about the Yahi people and went through piles of reference books to find the plants matching the illustrations. There were several possibilities for each illustration and I made an extensive list of what I might need.
I contacted another native tribe and met on weekends with those who had some knowledge about the possible uses of the plants on my list. None of them knew the original recipy of the Yahi but I did get suggestions on what to try.
I spent months on throwing together different combinations of plants. I bought mice at the local pet store and fed them a little bit of each new brew I made. If they showed no signs of sickness I tried it myself. Most times it did nothing, but sometimes it resulted in a nice high. I didn’t scrap those brews but gave them to a friend who produced more and sold it as a healthier alternative to smoking weed, giving me the cut to finance my research.
Then one weekend when I had driven near the coast to gather fresh ingredients and visited one of the elders from the Yana tribe, she gave me a sash. She said she had gotten it as a small child and had forgotten about it until she emptied an old chest and found it at the bottom. It had symbols on it representing plants and stars so she figured it might hold clues for me.
I figured out most of the symbols for the plants but I didn’t know what the symbols for the stars had to do with it. Until it occured to me that it might have to do with how the tribe learned the star systems. It was in a fixed order and each system represented a number on the list, and it might just be the number of leaves or flowers I needed of each plant.
I went back to work, creating eight more brews since I wasn’t sure about some plant symbols.
There was a reaction from the mice with the fifth. One seemed to panic, the others sat silently, staring at the same point above them. I felt excited.
I tried a little bit and the next thing I remembered was waking up from a dream about floating around inside the house. I tried more but it had lost its effect. Most likely it would only work one dose at a time.
I rushed work at the end of the day, eager to try a bigger dose that evening. I had set up a distration free room, blinding windows and playing a soft, constant bass beat.
The brew was bitter and made me cough, but soon I felt myself detach from my body. Once more I found myself floating around the house.
I concentrated on the moon, and I shuddered for a while, but I couldn’t get there. Perhaps the dose wasn’t strong enough. Then I thought of the space station and concentrated on it. A sudden accelleration surprised me, sending my heartbeat into overdrive but I did find myself just outside the main module. Still doubting it, I reached out and could feel the cylinder with my fingers. It felt hot at the sun side, but it didn’t burn me. I looked all over it, feeling excited like a little kid. I floated towards one window and watched the crew working inside. Then one of them startled me as he suddenly appeared at the window, looking outside. At first I felt awkward, because how would I explain myself being out here, then I noticed he was looking right through me. He couldn’t see me at all.
I waved my hand, and he turned away after a moment. I laughed while everything faded and kept on laughing for a long time back in my room.
Each evening I increased the dose and travelled farther out into our solar system. I visited the moon, compared what I saw on Mars with the pictures from NASA to make sure what I saw there really happened. It was no illusion, the view I had would be confirmed the next day in the archive on the NASA website. I had really been out there.
I joined astronomy forums, discussing interesting places and gained popularity by what they thought were accurate speculations on the planets and asteroids. I did make some intentional mistakes to prevent arousing suspicion that I knew too much.
One day there was a discussion about a picture taken by Voyager of Triton, one of Neptune’s moons. A faint outline and what seemed a reflection was seen by some as an icy mountain, others thought clouds, or thought it was a glitch in the camera. I couldn’t make anything of it and decided to take the next trip there to have a look.
I had only visited Neptune once before when I practiced going through the solar system. Now I floated near the blue planet, taking in its view once more. Each trip still thrilled me to the core. Being out here made me feel like a superhero, only without the super strength.
I focused on Triton and found myself close enough to search for the cause of the discussion. Mountaains and volcanoes enough, but none seemed to stand out much. I was looking at a few craters when I saw a sharp reflection. I got curious to see if I had found a mirror of ice and focused on getting close to it.
I did find a mirror, just not of ice.
I’m not sure if it was glass, but I looked at a huge rectangular curved surface. Something not made by man, but not by nature for sure.
I sensed something behind me and turned around. All I remember was at least five limbs, a probably black, shiny helmet, and a device delibarately pointed at me before I panicked and returned with a shock to my room. I tried to calm my breathing when I noticed the burning sensation on my left side. I watched in horror at the burn marks on my chest and upper arm. They had seen me.